Reviews: the last witch hunter

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Share All sharing options for: Why is The Last Witch Hunter so spectacularly bad? Not nearly enough witch hunting.


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This is a thing that happens in The Last Witch Hunter. Good luông xã figuring out what it is. Lionsgate
The Last Witch Hunter has a lot of flaws: its plodding pace, its lazy direction, its muddled story, its hopelessly expository dialogue. But the most glaring flaw of all is even more basic than any of that: There’s not nearly enough witch hunting.

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The movie stars Vin Diesel as Kaulder, an immortal badass who for 800 years has enforced a truce between humans & witches at the behest of a shadowy group known as the Axe pháo and Cross. But after the opening scene, in which Kaulder — elaborately bearded and clad in mamang lại furry armor, lượt thích a Brooklyn bartender who joined the Night’s Watch — leads a band of ancient warriors inlớn a witch’s den lớn kill off a witch queen, there’s disappointingly little actual witch hunting.

The most glaring flaw of all is even more basic: There"s not nearly enough witch hunting

Following the brief introductory sequence, the movie flashes forward to lớn the present, where Kaulder, now a clean-shaven immortal who favors sleek thành phố coats và blaông xã button-downs with ridiculously overkích thước collars, spends his days tracking down witches who’ve sầu broken the truce and delivering them to lớn an organization called the Witch Council, which delivers its judgment & then locks them away in an underground dungeon.

Until the last-minute finale, Kaulder does very little that can be legitimately described as witch hunting. Instead, he’s more like a witch detective or, worse, a witch parole officer, patrolling known witch hangouts và dutifully checking in lớn see that the witches under his supervision are following the law, and then hauling them in to lớn be imprisoned by the judicial system when they don’t.

Kaulder even acknowledges this sad reality in a quiet moment of reflection at the end of the second act, glumly sighing to a colleague, "We don’t destroy witches anymore. We incarcerate them."

That’s a bummer, because more witch hunting & witch destroying is exactly what a movie like this needs. The Last Witch Hunter was never going lớn be a great movie, but there’s no reason for it to lớn be a terrible one. The underlying problem is that it doesn’t seem to lớn understand the inherent appeal of its own concept.

The Last Witch Hunter had the potential khổng lồ be a great genre film

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If a movie where Vin Diesel wears animal skins can"t be great, then what can? Lionsgate With a reported production budget of about $90 million, The Last Witch Hunter is a reasonably expensive film, but it’s still considerably less expensive sầu than an average studio tentpole release. At its heart, it’s really just a genre B-movie, with smaller, simpler ambitions than most effects-driven summer blockbusters. And what almost always distinguishes the best of these sorts of films from low-rent genre junk is a clear, compelling concept — and the ability to lớn both understvà that concept’s appeal and then deliver on it.

There are few better examples of this than director John Carpenter’s string of B-movie classics during the 1980s — Escape From Thủ đô New York, The Thing, They Live sầu. (Despite its considerable charms, Big Trouble in Little Đài Loan Trung Quốc is ultimately a little too hokey for its own good.)

Carpenter wasn’t making ultra-cheap exploitation films, but he didn’t exactly have sầu unlimited funds, either. Escape From Thủ đô New York, for example, boasted a complex production thiết kế and a number of practical special effects, but it was made for just $6 million. Return of the Jedi, in contrast, cost $32 million khổng lồ make just two years later.

But Carpenter made his modestly budgeted films work by focusing relentlessly on their core concepts. Right from the start, you know exactly what you’re going to lớn get from Escape: After a national crime spike, Manhattung has been walled off and transformed inkhổng lồ a futuristic prison. The president’s plane crashes in the city. And badass, eye-patch-wearing convict Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell, who was very much the Vin Diesel of the 1980s) is sent in to retrieve sầu him. The movie wastes no time with anything extraneous. Plissken seems khổng lồ have sầu a backstory — people keep saying they heard he was dead — but it’s never developed because it doesn’t need lớn be. He enters Thành Phố New York, searches for the president, then tries to get out. That’s it.

A good genre movie knows what it"s about, then sticks lớn it

The same efficient focus can be found in Carpenter’s follow-ups, The Thing, a gory, brilliantly tense monster movie phối in an Antarctic research outpost, & They Live sầu, a sly, brutal truyền thông satire about a man (pro wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper) who finds glasses that allow hyên to see the true faces of the aliens who actually run the world. In both films, Carpenter sets up the basic idea in the first few minutes, then follows it relentlessly lớn its conclusion.

Carpenter’s best films vì chưng this better than most, but they’re not the only successful examples: Think of James Cameron’s original Terminator, another concept-driven, relatively inexpensive sầu science fiction film from the same period, or George Miller’s first Mad Max sequel, The Road Warrior. (The early "80s were a great period for these sorts of movies.)

There’s a memorable conceptual clarity to lớn both of these films, a simplithành phố and directness that drives the action and lets the audience know exactly what to lớn expect. It helps that they also have sầu titles that perfectly articulate the concept: The Terminator features an awful lot of terminating; The Road Warrior is jam packed with spectacular vehicular combat.

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Basically, a good genre movie knows what it’s about, then sticks to it.

The Last Witch Hunter doesn"t understvà its own concept

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Sure. Set everything on fire. Just put it back the way you found it. Lionsgate The Last Witch Hunter is a terrible movie because it has no idea what it’s about. The underlying concept is fine. But it doesn’t know what lớn vì chưng with it — và doesn’t even seem to lớn know why it’s interesting in the first place.

After the movie flashes forward khổng lồ the present, it quickly gets bogged down with incomprehensible fantasy lore. Kaulder spends a lot of time explaining various magical systems & rules khổng lồ the various supporting characters, but it mostly sounds lượt thích gobbledygook, and rarely adds useful information. "Max is a 14th-level warloông xã," is a real line of dialogue from the movie, but not one that helps viewers understvà anything they need lớn know; there’s never any additional reference lớn a warloông xã leveling system, nor any sense of what it means to be cấp độ 14 versus, say, level five sầu or level 42.

The script even seems lớn acknowledge how overly dependent it is on this sort of lame mystical technobabble. After one particularly impenetrable exchange with another magical being involving the phrase "muldering crabapples," Kaulder’s assistant, the 37th Dolan — which, in yet another bit of needless lore, is just a fancy word for sidekick — asks, sheepishly, "So all that made sense lớn you?" At least somebody’s asking the question.

After one particularly impenetrable exchange involving the phrase "muldering crabapples," Kaulder"s assistant asks, sheepishly, "So that all made sense to you?"

Better genre films vì their world building without excessively explaining it. In The Road Warrior, for example, Max spends very little time explaining the particular social rules và personal dynamics of the wastelvà he inhabits. He just goes about his business, và we, in the audience, learn all we need lớn know from what he does. The concept is there lớn drive sầu the action; it doesn’t need extended footnotes in the dialogue.

The Last Witch Hunter often seems far more interested in touring and explaining the world it built than in getting khổng lồ what we presumably came to see — some actual witch hunting. The movie kicks off when Kaulder’s previous assistant, the 36th Dolan (Michael Caine, who’s too good for this role) is murdered. This should phối Kaulder, the immortal warrior, blazing down the path toward bloody revenge; instead, it turns into lớn a kind of mystery, with Kaulder scouring New York for magical clues lượt thích a magical detective.

Only in the final act does Kaulder decide lớn take his supposedly famous sword, Witchslayer, out of his armor clophối (teased in the first act, but otherwise bizarrely unused) và hunt down a witch. And even this only occurs in the final few minutes. Granted, when Kaulder finally uses a magical potion to lớn light his sword on fire & battle it out with a witch queen in dungeon, it’s not the greademo scene. But it’s the only moment in the movie that really even attempts to lớn deliver on its core concept.

Vin Diesel used lớn make great genre films

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Now he just hangs out in forest groves. Lionsgate The Last Witch Hunter is such a disappointment in part because much of Diesel’s appeal is his ability to carry this type of movie. These days he’s known more for his leading role in the Fast và Furious franchise, an international box office megahit with increasingly broad appeal & giant budgets và ambitions to lớn match.

But Diesel got his start in relatively more modest projects lượt thích XXX and Pitch Blaông xã. Indeed, Pitch Blaông chồng — a tough, brutal sci-fi action film that stars Diesel as a man who can see in the dark on a planet that is swarmed with alien creatures when it enters extended nightfall — is a nearly perfect example of a modern-day genre B-movie. It knows its appeal — Vin Diesel fights aliens in the darkness — & delivers accordingly. So, for that matter, is the original Fast & the Furious, which, before exploding into lớn a global sensation, was just a simple movie about cars, cops, & criminals — Point Break with street racing.

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Every movie is in some sense a promise to lớn its audience. Some are big và bold, others more modest và direct. Either way, the movie’s job is lớn make its promise clear và then deliver. The Last Witch Hunter has no idea what its promise is — & thus totally fails to lớn live up to lớn it.


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